As the calendar progresses and we turn towards the autumnal equinox, the summer weather of foggy days leaves us behind. We will start to have our warmer temperatures and sunny days and what we have come to see as “Summer.” However, that also means that the Winter rains are around the corner. Our rainy season also means that a common bacterial disease will start to appear again. Leptospirosis is a common infectious disease that we diagnose during our rainy season, November to March. Leptospirosis is important because it is a zoonotic disease; it can infect our pets (dogs) and people.

Leptospirosis is spread in the urine of infected animals and it can be carried by rodents, raccoons, opossums, deer, coyotes, horses, cattle, marine mammals, sheep and dogs. It can survive in wet grass, soil and water. When your dog (or a person) is exposed by contact with infected urine, water or soil, the bacteria can enter through the skin or mucous membranes. After exposures symptoms can show up in as little as 2 days, however 7 days is more typical.

Common symptoms are fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anorexia (not eating), stiffness, drinking and urinating frequently, weakness and lethargy. Affected dogs can develop kidney disease, liver disease, and in rare instances bleeding in their lungs. If your dog is acting sick, you should bring your dog to see your veterinarian immediately. Some dogs have mild symptoms and while others can get very sick and require extensive hospitalization.

If your dog has symptoms suggestive of Leptospirosis, we recommend testing them for the disease and treating them appropriately. Treatment often involves hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics and supportive care. Some dogs may become very sick and will need to be treated at a specialty hospital like the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin, or the VMTH at UC Davis. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us at Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital.

How do you prevent leptospirosis? Ideally, we want to prevent your dogs from walking, swimming and drinking water that may be contaminated with urine. During our winter, examples would be standing water on the trails, seasonal creeks in the Open Space and even the wet grass along creeks and rivers. Cases have been reported in dogs that have been all over Marin- city streets, out in the Open Space and even at the beaches. Beyond preventing exposure to these locations, the other preventive measure is vaccination.

While we have been recommending the vaccine for several years, with the drought we were not as vigilant as we should have been. The vaccine for leptospirosis has been considered a non-core or lifestyle vaccine (based on risk). In April of this year, the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) at UC Davis changed their recommendation and leptospirosis is now a core vaccine, like Rabies and DA2PP (Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Parainfluenza). We recommend that all of our canine patients be immunized. The vaccine that we recommend contains 4 serovars to help protect against leptospirosis. If your dog has not had the vaccine before, it is initially given as a 2-booster series given at a 4-week interval. Afterwards, the booster immunization is once a year. At Terra Linda Veterinary Hospital, we recommend giving the vaccine in the Autumn months, although it may be given at any time throughout the year.

Andrew Lie DVM, DABVP- Canine + Feline Practice